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    Joe Q on Marvel’s Digital Royalties Policies

    By | June 28th, 2010
    Posted in News | % Comments

    When DC recently announced their Digital Comics platform, they made sure to make one of their biggest announcements amidst their flurry that creators will be getting royalties for the digital sales of their comics. Given that Marvel had not really come forth with anything of the sort, this was a major deal to the industry that sparked a strong defense from Marvel and much speculation from analysts. Did Marvel really not have royalties for their creators worked into their digital roll out?

    Not so much.

    In CBR’s regular Cup O’ Joe column, Kiel Phegley spoke to Joe Quesada about just that. They discussed all of the ins and outs of this program, why they didn’t announce it before, and how it all came about, and you can read all of that below. The thesis of the argument is this though: all creators (exclusive or not) are receiving royalties for their work that is sold digitally, and they didn’t announce this previously because it is not something they’ve done in the past as it isn’t perceived as a big deal to the public. Which is fair.

    Read the rest after the jump, as I’m sure this is just another salvo in an ongoing volley between the Big Two as the world of digital comics just becomes more and more prevalent.

    Kiel Phegley: Well, the big talk as far as Marvel is concerned is this hubbub over royalties from digital sales. There seems to have been some Twitter push back against the perception that DC is the first company to offer payments to creators from digital sales. Marvel’s C.B. Cebulski Tweeted that said idea was untrue and got some Retweet love from yourself, Brian Bendis and others, and later on Tom Brevoort made his own statements to that effect. To take all the issues surrounding this piece by piece, has Marvel been paying royalties to its creators on sales of digital comics?

    Joe Quesada: Yeah, I sort of came across the DC announcement a bit later than everyone else, so it felt like a lot had already gone down and been said on our side. That’s why I merely retweeted something C.B. had already posted.

    But this is all really just a tempest in a teapot, to me. Going pretty far back, in discussions about electronically/digitally distributed comics, our publisher Dan Buckley stated at several convention panels and in interviews that we would be paying incentives for creators of these books. We just didn’t put out a press release about it, and I guess some folks just didn’t catch it when he said these things. But there you go, welcome to the world of the Internet.

    Kiel Phegley: To clarify the specifics of Marvel’s plan a bit more, why did the royalty program take longer to get in place than the digital comics sales platforms?

    Joe Quesada: Well, that’s just the thing; it hasn’t. Like all incentive programs, whether paper or electronic, sales are tabulated, math is done and then, eventually, checks go out. If you want specifics, okay I’ll give you one: our first incentive checks for e-comics will be going out sometime right after San Diego Comic-Con. Announcing this, now maybe DC can put out a press release saying that they’re going to pay their incentives the week before San Diego. Cool, if they do that, then they’ll manage to be the first at something in the digital arena. [Laughs]

    I’m kidding of course. But the reason I think this was so important for so many staffers and freelancers at Marvel to address individually online was because of the inaccuracy of the statements made and the fact that it struck at the core of something that we value and take very seriously, which is our relationship with our creators. There’s a reason the top creators in the industry come to Marvel and choose to make it their home year in and year out, and that’s quite simply because of the way we treat them. Are we perfect? Absolutely not, no company can be perfect — especially companies the size of Marvel and DC. But within the context of what it is that we do for a living, the huge number of freelancers that we deal with, and the tremendous amount of content that gets produced within a company the size of ours, I think we do an amazing job of keeping our talent happy and are always looking to manage their careers in the best ways possible.

    So the long and short of it is that just because we didn’t put out a press release announcing an incentive program doesn’t mean that there isn’t one in place.

    But, let me be clear here; the whole realm of digital comics is brand new, so there will always be hiccups along the way and this will be true of any comics company. We’re just going to continue to do the best we can to continuously improve what it is that we do, and if that means learning that someone else has found a better methodology, then we’ll look into improving ours as well — just as other companies will look at us to find out how they can improve. This is the essence of business, the competition is good for everyone.

    Kiel Phegley: The talk has been that Marvel’s royalties will only apply to exclusive creators. If true, what’s the reasoning behind this, and will that plan expand out to all creators whose work is sold through Marvel’s digital platforms?

    Joe Quesada: Wow, the Internet strikes again. I don’t know where you’ve heard this, but it’s not true. Incentives will be paid on the sale of e-comics regardless of whether a creator is exclusive or not.

    Kiel Phegley: I think, really, the question people have been asking most about in terms of this is why Marvel hasn’t been publicizing their plans for royalties in the same way DC did? Is there some specific reason why these issues aren’t made public knowledge?

    Joe Quesada: We just didn’t think it was an issue. When we made our announcements that we would have electronic comics on the iPad, iPhone and PSP, that, to me, was the only real announcement that was important for the public to know. Internally what creators make, whether it be their page rate or incentives, wasn’t really an announcement for the general public. The only time I guess an announcement like that would be important to make publicly would have to be if you’re trying to win some sort of public relations war, which I kind of get in some ways. But when we announced our e-comics, the whole incentive issue wasn’t anything we felt we had to advertise. What was important is the fact that we are now in that domain and looking to succeed beyond anyone’s imagination and continue to preach the gospel of the world of comics. You know, now that I think about it maybe my initial answer to your first question was wrong – there might be something to learn here. Next time we announce a new publishing initiative, I’ll see if our marketing team can make it a point to announce that we will be paying creators page rates, incentives and every other little thing we do behind-the-scenes. [Laughs]

    Kiel Phegley: Lastly on this issue, this whole thing has brought up the general difference between Marvel and DC in terms of incentives and royalties for talent, from supposed expiration dates on rights to foreign rights and all sorts of other things. I’ll admit that I know very little on the specifics of this, and I doubt most others who aren’t creators do either, but rather than hash out contractual matters in the public space, I think the question I’d have for you is whether you think there’s any kind of difference or disparity between Marvel and DC’s royalty programs and whether those programs can affect either publisher’s ability to recruit and keep talent happy?

    Joe Quesada: There are differences I’m sure. I’m not privy to DC’s entire incentive plan as I’m sure they’re not privy to the entirety of ours. But at the end of the day I’m sure we are better in some areas than they are and they are better than we are in some others. However, I think when you add it all together and you push and pull the numbers, it all breaks down to be about the same. It’s just coming from different pools. However, the big difference is the Marvel books on average and across the board sell more than DC books and that affects incentives in a very, very big way and it’s obvious that Marvel’s iPad announcement really helped cement us as the industry leader.

    Speaking of which, have you checked out the Marvel app on the iPad and iPhone! Wow, it’s just amazing. I live on my iPad now, I can’t put the darn thing down…Damn You, Jobs!

    See what I did just there?

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).